UPDATE: Harden resigns from Parkland board

UPDATE: Harden resigns from Parkland board

CHAMPAIGN — Rochelle Harden, whose election to the Parkland College Board led to an unusual lawsuit in which her board of trustees colleagues sued her, has resigned.

Harden, an associate professor of English at the Champaign community college, could not both serve on the board and remain a member of the faculty, Circuit Judge Tom Difanis ruled in August.

In her letter to letter to Parkland board Chairman Dana Trimble, dated Sept. 27, Harden wrote:

“It is with great regret that I need to inform you of my decision to resign my position on the Parkland College Board of Trustees, effective immediately.

“It was a great pleasure to serve on the Board and get a first-hand look at the overall structure of the College.

“I am obviously disappointed in the judge’s decision, and I have my own concerns about the future of the College without increased interaction between Board members and faculty and staff and obviously the lack of diversity on the board, but I leave that in your hands.

"I am happy to return to teaching and focus on my students. If you require my assistance, please don’t hesitate to ask.”

Harden was the first African-American to serve on the college’s board of trustees in its 50-year history.
At the time of Difanis’ Aug. 23 ruling, Harden indicated that it was likely she would quit the board and continue as a faculty member.

“Believe me, if I could afford to quit my job and serve — because people voted for me and I really want to honor that — but I need my job,” she said.

Harden’s resignation means the remaining members of the Parkland board have to fill the vacancy.
Parkland announce this morning that the trustees are accepting applications to fill the vacancy. The appointed trustee will serve until the next trustees election in April 2019.

 Interested persons should send a Letter of Intent and a brief resume to Nancy Willamon at Parkland by noon Tuesday, Oct. 10.  

Applicants must reside within the Parkland district, which includes Champaign, Coles, DeWitt, Douglas, Edgar, Ford, Iroquois, Livingston, McLean, Moultrie, Piatt, and Vermilion counties.

Harden was elected to the Parkland board in April in a six-way race.

But about a week after she was elected, Harden said Parkland’s attorney, Lorna Geiler, told her she could not both serve on the board and be a faculty member. And a day after she was sworn in as a trustee, the remaining members of the Parkland board filed for a declaratory judgment, asserting that her employment by Parkland while simultaneously serving on its board violated state law.

“Illinois law prohibits an individual from being employed by the same public community college for which she also serves as a member of the board of trustees,” Geiler wrote.

“Specifically, an individual’s employment by the same community college for which she also serves as a member of the board of trustees would create conflicts of interest, and would constitute direct violations of Illinois statutes, which cannot be avoided by waiver or abstention,” she continued.

After she took the oath of office Harden she would abstain from voting on personnel issues as a faculty member, and also would remove herself from the discussion of personnel issues at board executive sessions.

“I will remove myself from that conversation because I think it’s really important that there isn’t even the hint of impropriety, that there is no indication whatsoever that I have any sort of undue influence,” she said Wednesday.

In the April 4 election, Harden finished third in a six-way race for three six-year slots on the Parkland board.

Board President Dana Trimble received 18,562 votes and finished first in the voting in every county in the Parkland district. Greg Knott was second with 12,653 votes and Harden had 12,101.

Richard Taylor had 11,159 votes, E.J. Donaghey received 8,220 and Rabel Burdge got 5,356.


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787 wrote on October 02, 2017 at 12:10 pm

Thanks for the waste of time, effort, and taxpayer money.

coco wrote on October 02, 2017 at 12:10 pm

People voted Harden in. I personally feel that a Board of Trustees needs a faculty member, since a Board has very little actual connection to a college or university. Harden said she would recuse herself in cases of conflict of interest. I'm very sorry she's being forced to step down.

A Board of Trustees is very much like quite a few other elected positions:  except for the higher profile seats, the citizens don't really know who they are, and they keep their positions for many years. 

One of the reasons Harden got elected was because the public knew who she was. It's a real shame that we don't get to have our choice for that office be respected.

TheSaltyOne wrote on October 02, 2017 at 3:10 pm

While we are expressing personal feelings, I feel I need to share mine as well. It has been interesting to read the articles and see how this has played out over the past few months. What seems like common sense to most, which was reinforced by the Board and the Judge, is still not understood by Ms. Harden.

I fail to see how anybody can think this wouldn’t create conflicts of interest. Ms. Harden was told she couldn’t be on both the Board and remain a staff member, yet she failed to see why. You can’t simply decide to “sit out” and not vote when an issue comes up that has something to do with her other role, as that would leave the Board with an even number of voters on the issue - which ruins the whole majority vote wins concept, as there could be a tie and what would you do then?

So the person elected for the role to cast a vote isn’t casting a vote on these topics, nor is she representing the people who voted for her to fill the position….rather, she’s doing absolutely nothing during these conversations and is ultimately taking up space and a seat for no reason. She disagreed with the Boards (and Judge’s) decision and decided to tap into community members funds to pay for her ill-judgment and lack of wisdom/comprehension.

Personally, I feel that Parkland should consider finding a replacement for her faculty position. I’m not sure how they can expect good graduates when they have teachers there who lack common knowledge.

BruckJr wrote on October 03, 2017 at 7:10 pm

She may have "tapped into community members funds to pay for her ill-judgment and lack of wisdom/comprehension", but she also tapped into taxpayer funds to cover legal costs for the college.  We got to fund her ego trip.

TheSaltyOne wrote on October 02, 2017 at 3:10 pm